Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula One champion, will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut March 26 at Circuit of the Americas in his first of three races in the 2023 season.
In a collaboration between Rick Ware Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing (which is providing marketing and promotional support, Button will drive the No. 15 Ford Mustang with sponsorship from Mobil 1. Button also will race RWR’s No. 15 (a chartered car) July 2 in the Chicago Street Race and Aug. 13 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Button already has been getting laps in a Next Gen car this year, testing the Chevrolet Camaro that he will share with Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller in the Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Button tested the Garage 56 car earlier this week at COTA.
NEW APPRECIATION FOR NASCAR: Button impressed by how Cup teams stack up against F1’s best
In an F1 career that started in 2000, the 15-time winner drove for Williams, Renault, Honda and McLaren during 17 full-time seasons.
In addition to his work as a Sky Sports F1 commentator, Button has remained active in racing. He won the 2018 championship in the Japanese Super GT Series’ GT500 class.
Button also has been active in sports cars, making five starts in the World Endurance Championship (including the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans), and off-road endurance racing (the Mint 400 and Baja 1000 in 2019). Mobil 1 has been a sponsor for 20 years since his days in F1.
“I won the world championship with Mobil 1, and 14 of my 15 wins in Formula One were with Mobil 1, as well as winning the Super GT championship with them,” Button said in a release. “We’ve had a really close relationship over the years and I can’t think of a better partner.
“Mobil 1 has been a big part of making these NASCAR races happen for me, so I’m very thankful to them for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to working alongside the brand to get the best out of every race weekend.”
“We are thrilled to celebrate Jenson Button as he makes his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series and support him on his journey to making one of his racing dreams a reality,” Rob Shearer, Mobil 1 director of global lubricants marketing services, said in a release. “We’re driven by the love of driving and committed to helping more people get behind the wheel – wherever they may be. Through our partnership, we hope to continue to inspire and serve drivers everywhere – encouraging them to get more out of their drive and reconnect with the adventure of the open road.”
Button has 306 career starts in F1, wrapping his career in the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix as a substitute for Fernando Alonso (who was racing in the Indy 500).
“The reason I was able to stay in Formula One for so long was because I always felt I was learning,” he said. “There was always something new in terms of technologies, or I could still improve my driving or engineering skills within Formula One. When I got to my 17th year in F1, I felt like I lost that hunger a little bit because it wasn’t new anymore. There wasn’t something new to learn.
“Stepping away from F1 gave me the opportunity to try different series that excited me. I raced Super GT in Japan. I raced at Le Mans. I raced off-road because it was another skill to learn. You put yourself in a slightly vulnerable position because it’s not your complete skill set, and there’s still more to learn to be as good as the best. I love that challenge of driving new things. It’s slightly out of my comfort zone, and I found that out with off-road trucks.”
Button already has gotten familiar with the stock-car industry through his new connections with Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR (which are jointly fielding the Le Mans entry).
Lovely evening at the @Nascar clash here at the LA Coliseum. Big thanks to @nascar John Doonan @chadknaus @teamhendrick for their amazing hospitality. Great to catch up with my @nascarg56 family Rocky & @JimmieJohnson. @WilliamByron think you have a new super fan!! pic.twitter.com/NRRIUsXebq
— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) February 6, 2023
Button, who lives in Los Angeles, attended The Clash at the Coliseum last month with his family. During a Jan. 28 news conference at Daytona International Speedway to unveil the Garage 56 driver lineup, he spoke at length about what fascinated him in a Cup car.
“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” he said in the release to announce his three-race ride with RWR. “It’s a lot heavier with a lot less power and basically no downforce. It’s got a sequential gearbox where you need to blip the throttle, so there’s lots of stuff to learn in a very short space of time.
“But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100 percent in. I’m not just doing it for fun in some one-off. I want to be competitive, and I know that to be competitive, it’s going to take a bit of time. That’s why doing these three races works very well this season.”
Button said it took about four laps in Garage 56 testing to get the hang of the slightly modified version of the Next Gen Camaro that he will be racing June 10-11 at Circuit de la Sarthe.
✌️ out @COTA pic.twitter.com/tYPa6QEAZI
— NASCARG56 (@nascarg56) March 9, 2023
“The first time I jumped into the Garage 56 car, it was like, ‘What have I done? This is so different,’ ” Button said. “Then it was like, ‘Hang on, it’s still a race car. It’s got four tires that touch the road. It’s a mechanical racecar, which is even better for learning.’ I’ve really enjoyed the challenge.”
“A Cup car has a lot less downforce and is a lot heavier, but the Garage 56 car has given me an idea of what it will be like along with a direction, which is really useful,” he said. “I know in my first race I’m not expected to be qualifying right at the front, and I’m not expected to be fighting for a victory. I have a lot of respect for the drivers racing in the Cup Series. There’s so much talent there, whether it’s on ovals or road courses.
“Ten years ago, people used to say NASCAR guys can’t drive around a circuit, but I think they’ve proven that they can. Every time an ex-F1 driver gets in a stock car these days, they struggle initially. It takes a while for them to get up to speed, so I don’t expect to be right at the front, straight away. That’s why, for me, doing more than one race is really key so I can get the best out of myself and the best out of the car.”
Button will be racing at COTA with fellow F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen, who qualified 27th and finished 37th in his Cup debut last Aug. 21 at Watkins Glen International with Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 Chevrolet.
“The most important thing for me is to enjoy it,” Button said of his debut at COTA (where he made five F1 starts). “I want to feel comfortable in the car knowing that I can get as much out of the car in any situation as other people out on track. The result is the result and we’ll see what happens, but I want to get the confidence to brake as late as I’d like, to carry the speed through the high-speed corners, and to be able to race close – wheel-to-wheel with the pack.”
The COTA race also will feature two other notable drivers from other series with IndyCar’s Conor Daly (who made his Cup debut in the Daytona 500) and IMSA’s Jordan Taylor (in place of the injured Chase Elliott).